Thank you for inviting me to launch the Asialink Business Country Starter Packs today in my capacity as Minister for Small Business and Assistant Treasurer.
I’m sorry that I’m not able to be there to launch them in person, but I’m delighted to be able to launch them anyway, thanks to technology.
Technology has changed the way we engage with others all over the world. We all know that changes in technology have presented – and are still presenting – enormous opportunities for businesses. We just need to make sure we’re able to seize them. That’s why this Government is creating the right environment for business at home, and is assisting businesses to expand into Asia. As a nation, we’re linking with Asia in more ways than ever before. And the Country Starter Packs produced by Asialink Business are an invaluable resource for small and medium enterprises who want to build their engagement with Asia.
The right environment for business
The Government is committed to creating the right environment for businesses.
It’s important for confidence, it’s important for investment; and it’s important for growth. We took a huge step when we delivered a significant small business initiative in the last Budget.
Among other things, the $5.5 billion Jobs and Small Business package will help Australian businesses with tax cuts and an immediate asset deduction that will be available until June 2017.
We are also making sure that the economy is on track, and that there is no unnecessary regulation weighing business down. And of course, we are making sure that businesses have the right opportunities to grow their markets.
Assisting small business in Asia
As part of that, Australia is involved in APEC discussions through the Small & Medium Size Enterprises Working Group.
We are also working with a number of countries to strengthen economic links with our Asian neighbours, through forums such as the G20 and APEC.
Recently, Australia, along with Japan, Korea, New Zealand, the Philippines and Thailand, signed the Asia Region Funds Passport Statement of Understanding. The Asia Region Funds Passport aims to make the cross border issuing of managed investment funds easier across Asia. This initiative will create a regional market for managed funds and provide fund managers with a better opportunity to compete for a larger share of managing Asia's savings.
The Asia Region Funds Passport will not only reduce the amount of red tape faced by fund managers across the region, but will provide Australian investors with greater choice of investment products. This investment is important for business everywhere. And more specifically, the Government also has a number of initiatives to help small businesses expand in Asia.
For example, Austrade and TradeStart advisers, who provide advice and assistance to small businesses. Just ask Australia's Oyster Coast - known as AOC. AOC is a group comprising around 70 oyster farmers, all being small businesses.
In 2012, a number of growers began discussing how they could make the most of their work to increase oyster industry sustainability and profitability. They realised that there was a great opportunity to take advantage of their environmental credentials in a growing Asian market. Together, they have been able to pursue export markets, and last year commenced a strong export development programme. They visited Hong Kong and Singapore and other markets in Asia, and hosted a visit from Japanese oyster bars and importers last year.
This year, they commercialised into a fully-fledged company. Oyster farmers are now shareholders. Professional business people are employed by the company to develop its domestic and international plans.
With opportunities in Asia opening up, I look forward to seeing AOC's opportunities, and their business, grow.
Free Trade Agreements
The Free Trade Agreements with Japan, Korea and China are also a breakthrough for Australian businesses, both big and small, providing key benefits to Australians.
They enhance competitiveness and market access for Australian exporters – exporters like McWilliams Wines, who have seen an increased level of interest in Australian wines at a time when the Chinese wine market is still recovering from recent declines. And of course, the Free Trade Agreements help attract much-needed investment in Australia.
They also mean lower prices on imported goods and services for Australian consumers: for example, Toyota announced savings of up to $1,000 on the Corolla Hatch as a result of the Government's free trade agreements.
Together, China, Korea and Japan represent a total customer base of 1.5 billion people.
They are already our top three export markets, accounting for around 40 per cent of Australia's total two-way trade, and almost two-thirds of our merchandise exports.
They are also prominent source-countries for our main services exports of tourism and education. In fact, China is Australia's largest services market, with exports to China worth $7.5 billion. All three FTAs will provide excellent outcomes for Australian exporters, investors and consumers, to the tune of $24.4 billion over the next 20 years. They are an investment in Australian jobs and our future in the region, and will create almost 8,000 jobs next year alone.
Businesses have already noticed the change. The Old Colonial Cookie Company, which makes Butterfingers biscuits, has seen their orders from China pick up after being introduced to buyers from China's food and beverage industry at a showcase in 2014.
The China FTA will mean that the current Chinese tariffs of 15-20 per cent on biscuits such as Butterfingers will be eliminated within four years of the FTA's entry into-force, meaning that Butterfingers and other Australian biscuits will be more competitive than ever in the Chinese market. And existing Free Trade Agreements are just the start. We are now also renewing our relationship with Singapore.
Australia-Singapore Comprehensive Strategic Partnership
The Australian and Singaporean Governments recently endorsed a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership - a 10-year work plan to better integrate our two countries and our economies.
As part of that, we are identifying opportunities to enable better access to, and integration of, financial and capital markets, investment flows, and collaboration.
We're looking at opportunities for research and development partnerships in government, academic institutions and the private sector, as well as increasing flows of skilled labour and visitors. This work builds on the significant outcomes already delivered under the Singapore Australia Free Trade Agreement.
We are also exploring a Free Trade Agreement with India.
Despite the headlines, our economic relationship is not all about iron ore, coal and manufactured goods. Asia’s growing middle class and evolving economy will underpin a broadening of our trade relationship.
By 2030, there will be over 2 billion middle-class consumers in China and India alone, presenting new markets and new opportunities for Australian businesses.
Even so, we are engaging with the whole of Asia, because the whole region presents enormous opportunities. Korea is Australia's third largest market for exports, with 6.7 per cent of total exports. Indonesia, Australia's 11th largest market for exports, grew by 4.7 per cent through the year to June 2015. And Thailand, Australia's 12th largest market for exports, grew by 2.8 per cent through the year to June 2015.
Asialink Business Country Starter Packs
Last year, Asialink published its Asialink Business Survey. There were some really encouraging findings. Australian businesses have robust and diverse engagement across the Asian region, with strong presences in both large and small economies.
Many Australian businesses are actively seeking help to overcome any challenges they face to do business in Asia. Industry and associations and Austrade are the most popular sources of assistance.
Yet the survey also revealed that there were challenges for Australian business operating in Asia. There are gaps in the resources available to assist businesses to commence or continue engaging with Asia.
And that's where the Asia link Business Country Starter Packs come in. Following the survey results, the packs were designed to fill this gap.
I am confident that the packs will be a valuable tool for small businesses looking to engage with Asia. They cover all kinds of matters. For example, the China pack includes information from etiquette, to regulation, to growing markets, to what you need to know when you visit. It is an impressive document. No doubt you will be hearing a lot more about the Country Starter Packs more generally.
I'd like to congratulate Asialink on the development of these Country Starter Packs.
These packs will empower businesses with knowledge – knowledge that is the key to unlocking opportunities in the fastest growing markets in our region.
I hope that you will make the most of them.